Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews
- Category: Jacqueline Monahan
- Published on 16 July 2010
- Written by Jacqueline Monahan
Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
Here’s the plot in a nutshell (if the nutshell happened to be the human brain): if it’s possible to take something out of a thing (extraction) it should also be possible to put something into it (inception). We’re talking ideas here instead of macadamias, but you get the picture.
Skilled professional extractor Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) must assemble the team of a lifetime for his last big mind-bending mission. Wealthy Japanese businessman Saito (Ken Watanabe) has hired him to plant an idea in a corporate rival’s subconscious, one that would favor Saito’s dominance in the marketplace. It may be the future, but money is still the stuff of dreams – here in a most literal sense.
If successful, Saito will see to it that Cobb, a widower, is cleared of criminal charges and U.S. immigration problems (resulting from past black market espionage assignments). The promise of seeing his two children once again convinces Cobb to agree to the plan.
Cobb and the team must construct a complicated tri-level dream, one where the subject Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy) dreams within a dream that’s within a dream itself, all the while never realizing he’s dreaming. To do this, Dom enlists the aid of an architect Ariadne (Ellen Page), morph specialist Eames (Tom Hardy) his assistant Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and a few others skilled in sneaky somnambulistic skullduggery.
There are gadgets in suitcases that attach wires to all of the gang including the mark, necessary for all of the sequential events to happen – they must sleep at the same time and on the same (brain) wavelength for the mission to work. There are totems for the team to use to know if they’re in a dream or not; these are little personalized objects that tell the participants whether they are in a dream or not. Handy plot device, but it’s not extended to the audience who’d really find it helpful,
Along the way, however, the audience will encounter explosions, random destruction, riots, gunshots, snow commandos, a tethered block of unconscious people floating in an elevator, cityscapes full of water, and bustling urban streets that turn in on themselves enough times to form an upside-down roof of cars and pedestrians.
Sound confusing? You may need a Lamborghini to keep up with the rapid-fire events, popping between dream, reality, the subconscious, and memory as if they were the components in a Whack-a-Mole game.
Then there’s Cobb’s tragic love story as a concurrent subplot. He’s the only character with any backstory, and his deceased wife Mal (Marion Cotillard), whom he continually mourns, shows up with the frequency of a stalker, making you wonder how Cobb ever gets the chance to miss her. She’s a monkey wrench in any scenario the team concocts, as if the story needs any further complications.
The performances are competent, although Ellen Page seems more than a little miscast. Leonardo DiCaprio is skilled in angst-filled urgency. Joseph Gordon-Levitt attends to his role with stone-faced dedication. Marion Cotillard’s Mal is simply a tragic, unstable figure, existing only as a pissed off and vengeful memory. Ken Watanabe injects an international flavor to the cast, while the ubiquitous Michael Caine shows up in a brief cameo as Cobb’s father-in-law.
Director Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight) takes on the ambitious task of interweaving several concurrent storylines, trying to synchronize them into a cohesive narrative. His complicated script springs to life, but skims over important details blithely, hoping to make up for them with slick special effects and editing which can seem as random as the paths of helium balloons scattered in a hurricane.
Nolan may know what he’s doing, but doesn’t seem to care if the audience does, so the film simply dissolves into an exercise in mind-hopping that can seem frustratingly mindless.
While I understand Nolan’s intent, there’s something lost in the translation here; he keeps jerking the cinematic train we’re riding to a halt unexpectedly, and then starting it up again in a new direction, losing some passengers along the way. Many never get back on, never arrive at the intended destination, and that’s ultimately his fault.
Nolan’s own protagonist explains it nicely. Cobb tells Ariadne early on that dreams start from the middle of the action; you never remember how you got there, only that you’re already in the mix, with disintegrating buildings and angry mobs in spontaneous riots. You can only return to reality by dying in your dream. A bullet between the eyes will restore you to the physical world.
Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait 2 ½ hours for that kind of relief.